Could Jon Huntsman really be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012?

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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Could an Obama appointee be the next Republican nominee for president? In New York magazine, reporter John Heilemann posits that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is a serious contender for the nomination, even though he’s currently America’s ambassador to China.

Huntsman, a popular Republican governor of Utah from 2004 to 2009, seemed like a rising star in GOP politics until Obama sent him packing for Beijing. On Jan. 1, Huntsman renewed speculation about a White House run when he pointedly refused to rule out a last campaign. “You know, I’m really focused on what we’re doing in our current position,” he told Newsweek. “But we won’t do this forever, and I think we may have one final run left in our bones.”

When news broke that Huntsman, a social moderate currently employed by a Democratic administration, might run for president many on the right greeted it with groans. “I wonder if there’s any alternate reality in which (Huntsman) winning the nomination is actually possible,” quipped Hot Air’s Allahpundit. “Are there presidential primaries in, say, ‘The Matrix?’ If he lands the coveted Neo endorsement, he might be able to squeak past Palin, Huckabee and Morpheus in the Matrix Iowa caucuses.”

Still, there are arguments to be made for a Huntsman-led Republican ticket. Former Obama campaign architect David Plouffe has said, that of all the possible Republican candidates, Huntsman is the only one who made him feel “a wee bit queasy” about 2012. Heilemann notes that the former governor is, among other things, a billionaire with plenty of resources at his disposal. No possible candidate for the GOP nod can dismiss him out of hand for that reason alone, especially Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Although Romney has his own fortune, and Daniels has clout in the Republican establishment, both would be forced to compete with Huntsman for the votes of socially moderate primary voters. And, as with Daniels, Huntsman’s reluctance to take a hard line on culture war issues could be an insurmountable obstacle in the Republican primary.

Following Obama’s victory in 2008, Huntsman said Republicans needed to soften their positions on climate change and gay marriage, a stance could come back to haunt him. Yet, according to Heliemann, that might not be enough to rule him out.

“The truth is that Huntsman is hardly some kind of flaming, purple-hued centrist. His positions on abortion and gun control are perfectly in line with the orthodoxies of the hard right, and his tax-cutting zeal would stand him in good stead with ardent economic conservatives,” he said. “More to the point, the Republican nominating electorate, for all the genuine (veto) power of its base, has in the past been willing to tolerate some degree of deviation in its eventual nominees — from George W. Bush on immigration to John McCain on … well, too many issues to list.”